October 28, 2011
Learn From Past Mistakes
In today’s society there is a lot more constructive time and effort put forth to study the immense variety of mental illnesses doctors are aware of and even those yet to be discovered than there was only seventy years ago. There are several classifications and degrees of competence and incompetence when it comes to diseases of the mind. There are not only institutions for individuals considered to have severe cases of mental illness that provide around the clock care, but schools and even special programs directed to the advancement and maintenance of those still functioning in everyday society with mental illness. Doctors and scientists that are extraordinarily knowledgeable about mental illness are devoted to uncovering as much information as possible to assist anyone with a mental illness in today’s society. In the 1930s however, with the country consumed by the Great Depression, money was scarce, many were faced with famine and discrimination was very much part of every day life. People were forced to fend for themselves. Not only was there still gender and racial discrimination running rampant in our country, there was discrimination against those with mental inabilities. It is highly unlikely there were many institutions, let alone special schools with programs to assist those considered mentally ill and still fully functional. Medical professionals did not have the knowledge or the medical advancements in technology to asses the illnesses they would face. Therefore, people began to overcrowd institutions that were available to the point of flooding the general hospitals. Thus humans began to be subjects in many clinical studies and guinea pigs in a sense for new, later to be discovered just mildly effective, clinical research and procedures. With little funding available, few institutions, and a lack of knowledge, there were not many options for anyone either severely affected or fully functional individuals possessing a certain set of traits.
Then referred to as “feeble-minded”; the groups of those possessing said traits were said to have a mental illness. This group not only unjustly consisted of women and minorities; but anyone who displayed limitations in any aspect of what was considered adaptive behavior was said to be “developmentally disabled” and in turn was classified mentally ill. According to the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene, the New York State Archives in the Office of Cultural Education states those said to be indignant, developmentally disabled, and even those that suffered from anxiety or intense depression flooded the hospitals between 1920 and 1930 causing a movement toward establishing more hospitals exclusively for those said to be mentally ill by medical professionals. Veterans of the war were also no exception. In that day in age, people took the word of doctors as a sort of gospel. Unfortunately during that time period, doctors had a skewed view on reality and what mental illnesses really were. Antônio Egas Moniz idealized that some mental illness was caused by an unordinary stickiness in nerve cells. (© 1998 WGBH) This lack of knowledge paired with willingness to do anything to solve this growing and mysterious epidemic was a recipe for disaster for those individuals really in need of serious medical attention. People whose families were financially capable were placed in the insane asylums and institutions that were available, where they were left at the whim of unknowledgeable medical professionals, where they could potentially face all types of therapy that no one actually knew worked. The 1930s also marked the development of shock therapy and lobotomy surgery. Though many psychiatrists were hesitant to embrace the new ideas, performing lobotomies rose nearly 500% following the over crowding of hospitals and mental institutions. Along with the drug cocktails prescribed to patience, sometimes